There is a very bad smell hanging over conduct of CASA in relation to safety oversight of Transair, the now defunct remote community airline that killed 15 people in the Lockhart River crash of 7 May 2005.

Crikey has examined more than 100 serious and detailed questions raised in the Senate by Senators Kerry O’Brien and Jan McLucas before and after the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released its scathing final report into the disaster on 4 April.

Every single one of them received a pro forma brush off response from Senator David Johnston representing the Minister for Transport, Mark Vaile, with each response including these paragraphs:

The accident is also currently being examined in an inquest by the Queensland Coroner’s Office.

Both CASA and the ATSB are assisting the Coroner. The coronial inquest provides the most appropriate forum for detailed and objective consideration of CASA’s oversight of Transair.

Together, the ATSB report, the coronial proceedings, and the evidence CASA has provided to the Senate on several occasions, ensure that the public interest in the issues raised by the accident is fully addressed.

These formula answers were being churned out by Senator Johnston and put on the parliamentary record right up to day the Queensland Coroner, Michael Barnes, delivered his report on 17 August.

Clearly the Minister’s confidence in “detailed and objective” consideration is misplaced and he must be as disappointed in the Coroner as everyone else.

The Coroner, ably assisted by none other than Ian Harvey QC, who often represents the safety regulator in legal matters, scarcely touches upon voluminous matters of concern to the relatives of the victims.

Or the wider interests of air travellers exposed to CASA’s failings in relation to its safety obligations to remote and predominantly Aboriginal community air services which remain unresolved.

The Senate, in however much time it has left, is the only place in which these answers can be pursued.

Some of the questions are very pertinent and technical, and were clearly framed after receiving detailed advice about the specific actions and inactions that must have transpired between CASA and Transair over a period of time.

Is it all too hard for the Minister and the safety regulator to confront the truth, that between 1999 and the fatal day, all of the processes and checks the CASA claimed to have in place where sometimes not performed, or continually bungled?

Or is it a case that the airline and its victims are dead, and best forgotten?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey